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阿加莎·克里斯蒂:悬疑小说之王 Agatha Christie: the First Lady of Mystery


  Mystery is an exhilarating element of life. Some of us revel1) in it, despite occasional overtones2) of real danger; some of us try not to think of the countless mysteries for which we have no answer, and the sense of insecurity and frustration they sometimes cause.

阿加莎·克里斯蒂  We often slip in and out of both categories for, in truth, we find ourselves fascinated by a sense of mystery, and the frightening thrill of suspense. When these elements can be provided for us to a heightened degree in literature or film, we are grateful; we would rather find them there than in the issues and concerns of our own lives!

  Literature Enlightenment 文学启蒙

  On that day, Sept. 15, in the year 1891, Agatha May Clarissa Miller was born in Torquay, England. Her father was an American citizen, of modest private income, who home schooled her in mathematics. But when young Agatha was 11 years old he died, and she thereafter began attending regular classes in arithmetic3) and other subjects. She was an avid reader as well and soon became a great fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Her love of writing surfaced early as well, nurtured both by her mother and by neighboring novelist Eden Philpotts4). Of this period Agatha remarked, “For some years I enjoyed myself very much writing stories of unrelieved gloom where most of the characters died.”

  Music and dance had always been an important part of her curriculum. So when Agatha’s mother sent her off to Paris a few years later, for further schooling, it was with the hope that Agatha might one day emerge as an opera star. But although she did well in singing and music lessons Agatha developed terrible stage fright, making a career involving any kind of public performance utterly out of the question. After graduation Agatha and her mother embarked on an exciting 3 month tour of Egypt. But while other English folk went for the novelty and the chic5), young Agatha felt in love with the history and with Middle Eastern ambience6). The romance and the mystery of other cultures and of great civilizations long gone intrigued her greatly and became fuel a number of her later books, as well as a lifelong love of archaeology7). But all that was in the distant future.

  Stepping into the Literary Circle 初涉文坛

  When she returned to England Agatha found romance and adventure of a different kind. She met and married Archibald Christie, a handsome young Lieutenant8) in the Royal Field Artillery9). That same year, 1914, World War I began. And like many other patriotic young women the 24 year old Agatha began volunteering her time for the war effort. She became a nurse at a Red Cross Hospital in Torquay, and eventually she took a post in the dispensary10). There she gained an intimate knowledge of pharmaceutical11) drugs and their preparation and uses—including their lethal12) dosages13).

  Meanwhile her love of writing and mysteries still flourished, and she began to think about writing her own novel. In 1916, egged14) on by her sister Madge, she decided to have a go15) at it. In just three weeks she managed to crank out16) her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. The novel debuted17) her now famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, the quirky yet logical little Poirot who would eventually appear in 39 novels.

  But although finished quickly, the book took nearly four years to find publication. But once the reading public had gotten a taste of Agatha’s work, her success as an author was assured. Her second book The Secret Adversary followed in 1922. And soon she was publishing at least one book per year—with nearly everything she produced selling astonishingly well. But life on the home front meanwhile was not so successful. Despite the birth of daughter Rosalind in 1919 and their mutual economic success, the Christies were drifting apart.

  The Eleven Missing Days 失踪之谜

  Eventually, in 1926, Archie admitted he had a mistress and asked for a divorce. The highly sensitive Agatha was crushed. But what followed immediately after has haunted18) the legend of the great writer ever since. On the evening of Friday, December 3, 1926, Agatha went upstairs to kiss her daughter goodnight. Then, at 9:45 p.m., she got into car and drove away. Later the vehicle was found abandoned several miles from home, with many of Agatha’s personal belongings strewn19) about inside. There was no sign of Agatha herself however. Immediately a huge search was mounted20), and the case attracted tremendous attention from the media as well as various public figures. Agatha’s husband Archie meanwhile, who had been away for the weekend with his girlfriend, became the object of tremendous scorn and suspicion.

  But 11 days later Agatha was found, alive, at the Harrogate Hydropathic Hotel. Most curious of all, she had registered herself under a name patterned after her husband’s mistress. According to a public statement made by police and family, Agatha was allegedly suffering from amnesia21).

  Archaeological Life 考古伉俪

  The Christies ultimately divorced in 1928. Several months later Agatha decided to go on a holiday, someplace exotic and foreign. She ended up aboard the Orient Express, headed for the Middle East. But even though the train ride provided fodder22) and inspiration for her later book, Murder on the Orient Express (1934), her final destination proved dreadfully boring. Arriving at last in Baghdad, Christie soon found herself bogged23) down in polite English society, and all usual accouterments24).

  Christie was aware however that some exciting archaeological work was being done farther south in Iraq. And she realized she could escape her implacable English hosts by arranging a visit to the dig site. As it turned out the wife of the chief archaeologist on site was a big fan of Christie’s and an extended stay was easy to arrange. There at last she immersed herself in the exotic foreign world she had come to explore—strange foods, customs, the bustle of native workers.

  But as it turned out, watching the ancient past emerge from the sands had a romance all its own. And the intellectual work of archaeology, figuring out the past from clues left behind, was a great deal like detective work. So, although she had to return to England, she eagerly accepted an invitation to return again the following year. When she did, she was assigned a handsome young archaeologist, Max Mallowan, to show her around and explain what had been learned during the years’ excavation. Agatha enjoyed his company as much as she did the tour itself. But of course she was certain he would never be interested in an “old lady” like herself, 14 years his senior. But when a family emergency called Agatha back to England, Max insisted on accompanying her. Six months later they were married.

  It proved to be the beginning of a life of mutual respect, support, and adventuring with Agatha accompanying Max into the field for excavations as often as possible. According to Max, she had a meticulous25) manner, a keen eye, and seemingly endless patience. Meanwhile she continued to write her novels, with many of her stories inspired by the settings and characters she had encountered on their travels.

  The Late Years 垂暮之年

阿加莎·克里斯蒂 垂暮之年  But by 1957 Agatha found it more difficult to manage camp life. Indeed she was so plagued by illness that year Max decided to call it quits. They retired from Nimrud and returned to England, where they busied themselves with writing and other projects. In 1968 Max was knighted for services to archaeology, and he was made a trustee26) of the British Museum in 1973. Agatha, in the meantime, was named the world’s best-selling author in the English language (1961), and was created a Dame27) Commander of the British Empire (1971). She continued writing of course, and she became increasingly involved with the theater and film.

  On January 12, 1976, Agatha died, following a short illness. She was 86 years old. Max’s memoirs, published the following year, cited his feelings of emptiness after 45 years of a loving and creative partnership with Agatha. Two years later, on August 19, 1978, Mallowan himself died.

  Despite the fact that Max Mallowan was considered one of the premier anthropologists of his day, it is his wife, Agatha Christie Mallowan, which the public best remembers. She wrote a total of 66 novels. A good number of her works have made their way into film. By many she is recognized as the single most popular mystery writer of all time. But as her own words reveal, Agatha was a vulnerable person, who struggled for success and happiness, as well as adventure. After all, “Life, itself, is a mystery adventure,” an entanglement28) difficult to find out—a wonder too vast to comprehend—never solved, never ceasing. As Mary McCarthy29) wrote: “We all live in suspense, from day to day, from hour to hour; in other words, we are the heroes of our own stories.”

  1. revel [ˈrev(ə)l] vi. 陶醉,喜好,取悦
  2. overtone [ˈəʊvə(r)ˌtəʊn] n. 弦外之音,含蓄之意;暗示
  3. arithmetic [əˈrɪθmətɪk] n. 算术,算法
  4. Eden Philpotts:伊登·菲尔波茨(1862~1960),英国作家,诗人,剧作家
  5. chic [ʃiːk] n. 别致的款式(尤指妇女的服饰)
  6. ambience [ˈæmbɪəns] n. 周围环境,气氛
  7. archaeology [ˌɑː(r)kIˈɒɪədʒɪ] n. 考古学
  8. lieutenant [lefˈtenənt] n. 陆军中尉
  9. Royal Field Artillery:皇家野战炮兵;artillery [ɑː(r)ˈtɪlərɪ] n. 炮的总称,炮兵的总称
  10. dispensary [dɪˈspensərɪ] n. (学校、兵营或工厂的)诊疗所,药房
  11. pharmaceutical [ˌfɑː(r)məˈsjuːtɪk(ə)l] adj. 制药(学)上的
  12. lethal [ˈliːθl] adj. 致命的
  13. dosage [ˈdəʊsɪdʒ] n. 剂量,用量
  14. egg [eɡ] vt. 煽动,怂恿
  15. have a go:尝试做某事
  16. crank out:〈口〉迅速而机械地作成(或说出)
  17. debut [ˈdeɪbjuː] vt. 初次登场,首次露面
  18. haunt [hɔːnt] vt. 时常萦绕心头,使困窘
  19. strew [struː] vt. 撒满,点缀,散播
  20. mount [maʊnt] vt. 上演
  21. amnesia [æmˈni:zɪə] n. 健忘症
  22. fodder [ˈfɒdə(r)] n. (创作的)素材
  23. bog [bɒɡ] vt. 使陷于困境,使不能前进
  24. accouterment [əˈkauːtəˈmənt] n. (个人穿戴方面的)饰物,饰品;衣着
  25. meticulous [mɪˈtɪkjʊləs] adj.〈口〉非常仔细的,严谨的
  26. trustee [ˌtrʌˈstiː] n. 托管人,保管人
  27. dame [deɪm] n. (英国)女爵士(的头衔)
  28. entanglement [ɪnˈtæŋɡ(ə)lmənt] n. 纠缠
  29. Mary McCarthy:玛丽·麦卡锡(1912~1989),美国当代文学界享有很高声誉的作家,擅长对婚姻、两性关系、知识分子以及女性角色进行辛辣的评论,作品备受社会各界关注。她曾获得爱德华·麦克道尔奖章(1982)、美国国家文学奖章(1984)以及罗切斯特文学奖(1985)等众多奖项,被《纽约时报》赞誉为“我们时代唯一真正的女作家”。